Giuseppe Ungaretti

Poet, Writer, Translator

1888 - 1970

Italy, United States

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Milena Milani

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Marguerite Chapin Caetani

Editor, cultural promoter, patron of arts

Mario Schifano

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Alba de C├ęspedes

Writer, poet

Giuseppe Ungaretti was born in Alexandria of Egypt on February, 8th, 1888 from Italian parents employed in the digging of the Suez canal. While in Alexandria, he began his formal education — during this period he came into contact with the works of Baudelaire, Poe, Mallarmé, and Nietzsche. By the end of 1909 he moved to Cairo, where he started his career as a translator — on the magazine «Messaggero egiziano» he published his translation of the short story Silence by Edgar Allan Poe. In the fall of 1912 he left Egypt bound for Paris, where he enrolled in the College of Sorbonne. In 1916 Ungaretti published his first collection of poems, Il porto sepolto (The Buried Port); in the following years, he would publish several other volumes of poetry — to name a few, L'allegria (The Joy, 1931), Il dolore (The Pain, 1947), Un grido e paesaggi (A Shout and Landscapes, 1952), and Il taccuino del vecchio (The Old man’s Notebook, 1960).

In the United States, Ungaretti’s poems had been translated and issued in periodicals, anthologies and monographic volumes since the beginning of the 1940s. One of the first publications was on the Briarcliff Quarterly 3 (1947) — the section was titled Contemporary Italian Literature and it included poems translated by William Weaver. Another early publication was the Anthology of Italian Poetry, issued in New Directions in Prose and Poetry 10 (1948) and curated by Renato Poggioli. Among anthologies, noteworthy are The Promised Land, and other poems: an anthology of four contemporary Italian poets: Umberto Saba, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Eugenio Montale, Salvatore Quasimodo (1957) curated by Sergio Pacifici, and Imitations, an anthology of poets from the past to the present age, translated entirely by the poet Robert Lowell (1961). The volume Life of a Man (1958) was issued concurrently in New York, London, and Milan the year Ungaretti was awarded the Premio Penna d’oro.

In 1964 Ungaretti visited the US for the first time — guest lecturer at the Columbia University in New York, he held a series of lectures on Giacomo Leopardi. He would return to the United States five years later, in April of 1969, to read his own poems at the Poetry Center in New York and at Harvard University. The event was introduced by Luciano Rebay, a knowledgeable academic and great connoisseur of Ungaretti’s work; on that occasion, Isabella Gardner, Allen Ginsberg and Louis Simpson read translations of Ungaretti’s poems. The following year, Ungaretti would fly to New York a third time to receive the first Books Abroad University of Oklahoma Prize for Literature (the prize would later be renamed Neustadt International Prize for Literature). During the award ceremony, Ungaretti read 18 of his own poems spanning his entire career (some of the poems selected were Agonia, Solitudine, Caino, Variazioni su nulla, Dunja), while Ivar Ivask and Luciano Rebay read the English translations made by Andrew Wylie. For the occasion Ungaretti received several congratulatory telegrams from writers and intellectuals, and Ginsberg wrote the short poem Ungaretti in Heaven. Already in delicate health, during this last trip Ungaretti was forced to be admitted to a hospital in New York due to a bronchopneumonia. He would be then transferred in Milan, where he would die the night of June 1st, aged 82.

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Sources

Agnoli, Francesco. «Quando Ungaretti credette». Aleteia 
https://web.archive.org/web/20150402103106/http://www.aleteia.org/it/arte/articolo/ungaretti-vita-conversione-poesia-guerra-cristo-pasqua-5775481987137536

Colangelo, Stefano. «UNGARETTI, Giuseppe». Enciclopedia Treccani https://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/giuseppe-ungaretti_%28Dizionario-Biografico%29/

Healey, Robin. Italian Literature since 1900 in English Translation: An Annotated Bibliography, 1929-2016. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019.

Ivask, Ivar. «Giuseppe Ungaretti in Oklahoma: The Old Captains’s Last Voyage». World Literature Today. https://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/blog/once-over/giuseppe-ungaretti-oklahoma-old-captains-last-voyage-ivar-ivask

Ivask, Ivar. «Homage to Giuseppe Ungaretti. Introduction: The Old Captain’s Last Voyage» Books Abroad, Autumn 1970, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Autumn, 1970), pp. 543-551.

La Repubblica. «La Beat Generation amori e segreti» https://ricerca.repubblica.it/repubblica/archivio/repubblica/2009/01/20/beat-generation-amori-segreti.html

Novecento letterario. «Giuseppe Ungaretti» http://www.novecentoletterario.it/profili/profilo%20di%20ungaretti.htm

Pacifici, Sergio (a cura di). The Promised Land, and other poems: an anthology of four contemporary Italian poets: Umberto Saba, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Eugenio Montale, Salvatore Quasimodo. New York: S. F. Vanni, 1957.

The Neustadt Prizes. «History: The Neustadt International Prize for Literature» https://www.neustadtprize.org/who-we-are/history/

Ungaretti, Giuseppe. Life of a man. New York: New Directions, 1958.

Author Eleonora Bellini